999 plea after woman's escaped hamster call

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Police released a recording of a woman who dialled 999 to say her hamster had escaped as they pleaded with the public today to use the service only for genuine emergencies.

South Yorkshire Police said eight out of 10 of the emergency calls made to its Sheffield control room do not require urgent attention.

In one call a woman tells the operator: "It's my hamster. It's got out of its cage. It's gone into the bathroom and it's gone down into the floorboards."

The call handler says "your hamster?" and the woman carries on: "Is there any chance anyone could come and help me get it out?"

In another call, a man is heard to ask for help because a swarm of wasps has landed in his garden.

Superintendent Rob Odell said the force received around 15,000 999 calls a month which it does not regard as an emergency.

He said his operators have even taken calls from people who have run out of credit on their mobile phones.

"Every second counts in saving someone's life, preventing injury or catching a criminal," said Mr Odell.

"You never know when it could be you in desperate need of help and the last thing you need is to lose vital seconds or minutes because someone has called 999 to order a taxi.

"We've worked hard to reduce our average response time to emergency calls to just eight seconds, but our service could be improved even further if people did not waste our time when phoning 999."

Mr Odell said the 999 service should be used only if a life is at risk or someone is being physically threatened, if a crime is in progress and the offenders are still nearby or if a road accident is causing an ongoing danger.

Like all forces, South Yorkshire has an non-emergency number - 0114 2202020 - for calls which fall outside this definition of seriousness.

He said much of the misuse was not deliberate but did confirm South Yorkshire Police received 1,500 hoax calls last year.